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“It is a fine balance, not only for the driver but for the teams,” Johnson said.

Mental and physical stamina will be tested throughout the long, long race, which starts at 6 p.m. when temperatures are their hottest and ends five hours or so later when the track has cooled considerably. The changing conditions keep a driver focused on what’s to come, Kenseth said, and attuned to things like handling and tire wear.

“The main thing I always try to do is try to look ahead, especially in this race and try and stay on top of the track changes,” Kenseth said.

Clint Bowyer, who won the fall race at Charlotte last season, says the fatigue of the long distance catches up with all the competitors eventually, no matter how good their seasons have gone up to now.

“There’s always a point where you’re `Where we at?’” he said. “And then you’ll hear ‘20 (laps) to halfway’ and you go, `What?’ It’s certainly a long race.”

Few teams have handled things at all tracks better than Kenseth’s this season.

Kyle Busch had the most dominant car at Darlington two weeks back while Kenseth maintained position in the lead group and took advantage when the opportunity _ in this case a cut tire for Busch _ came late in the Southern 500.

Kenseth’s comfortable with his position in the standings and in the sport. He loves the hot streak he’s on and looks for that to keep going the next few months before cut for the championship chasers is made in September.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to win some more races and before that and hopefully we’ll be able to run like we did to start this year off or improve a little bit,” Kenseth said. “And we can be in that conversation.”